NaNoWriMo Day #13…


For all you crazy NaNoWriMo people:

We’re supposed to be at 21667 words, today. I’m at 19,738, which wouldn’t be so bad, except that the number includes 6,020 words that I had before the month began (couldn’t wait to begin, you know).

I’ve run into issues– the setting I had originally chosen turned out not to be perfect based on a certain character who decided to show up and mess up my plot outline, so I had to go find the real perfect spot. I like it so much better than the first place, I’m already missing it, knowing they’ll have to leave it so soon.

I also had to pull out my giant timeline and cross-check some things, and then reset the historical moment by a few years. But everything’s settled, now, and we can get back to what I scripted out.

That last phrase was a joke, by the way. Something I do, when I need a laugh, is pull out my little plot outlines I’ve made along the way. These are relics of moments when I was inspired as to what should happen in the next few scenes. I’d grab the back of an envelope or a receipt or a napkin (writing around the grease spot left by a renegade salt and vinegar potato chip) or something meant for the recycling bin, and sketch it all out. Looking over them, perhaps 10% of what I wrote actually happened in the pertinent book.

Speaking of crazy things happening in your book, today’s entry on the trusty NaNoWriMo Calendar by Migratory says, “There’s no shame in adding zombies to your story.” I’ll have to think about that one. I think there’s the back of an envelope around here, somewhere…

Understanding vs. “Fixing” Autism

This short video is really interesting: Chris Packham on Understanding Autism

The way I see it, if I choose to learn skills to help me reach my goals, that’s great. But, if I let someone go inside my brain and mechanically change how I think, that’s troubling. In the latter, I lose control over my very self. I risk losing my very self. Is that still a “treatment”? Or am I merely being assimilated into a culture that refuses to make room for people who don’t fit a prescribed mold?

The diagnosis process for my then 3-year-old daughter troubled me. Things I saw as talents, they said were symptoms. (E.g., able to solve 50-piece puzzles as a toddler, lining up a hundred colored dinosaurs in a beautiful pattern across the table, quoting long scenes from A&E’s “Pride and Prejudice,” super-great at climbing, great at finding a way around any lock.) As we started treatment (early intervention), I asked whether they were going to take away the things she loved doing, what made her, “her.”

The woman who was going to be with her the most said no, what they were doing was giving her skills she needed to help her make it through this world we live in. The goal was not to change who she was, but to help her learn things so she could be the best “her” she could be.

Around this time, a friend recommended I read “The Speed of Dark” by Elizabeth Moon. It’s a great sci fi story. And, like all great stories, it gives the reader something to ponder. As for me, it helped me think more clearly about autism treatment for my daughter. (I.e., is it a disease that needs to be cured? Is it a defect that needs to be fixed? Is it a really interesting way of interacting with the world, one with more highs and lows than “regular” folks have? Is it a blessing, but one with a huge pack of work attached to it? Something else?)

Hearing the stories of people like Chris Packham and Elizabeth Moon helps me consider the situation with more information– it gives me a view through someone else’s perspective, a short-cut to their hard-earned wisdom.

I know lots of parents have kids on the spectrum that are non-verbal, unable to do self-care, prone to violent outbursts, and bigger than they are. I don’t have any opinion on what another parent needs to do in any specific situation– we’re so different! But I do think there’s a difference between helping a person learn new things to be their best, and fundamentally altering a person to try force them to approximate a cultural ideal.

My weird relationship with sci-fi/fantasy

⋅     Growing up, I spent lots of time in libraries– the ones in my elementary and high schools, and the one a short walk towards the Beltway from my house. In spite of this, I never got a practical idea of what the terms “science fiction” and “fantasy” meant. My view was that “Science Fiction” meant “1,000 Ways to Die in a Technologically Boring Way in Space,” and that “Fantasy” meant “Really Long Fairy Tales that Probably Aren’t As Good As the Real Thing.”
⋅     In sixth grade, I read “The Black Cauldron.” (Thus began my habit of starting a series anywhere. I read “Taran Wanderer” and “The High King” many times before I discovered that there were two other books in the series. I should tell you about meeting Lloyd Alexander…) I don’t know how many times I re-read those books, but I know the school and public librarians personally asked me not to check them out again for a while because other kids wanted to read them.
⋅     At some point in elementary school, I stumbled upon “The Silver Chair.” I thought it was really interesting, especially the part about drinking liquid diamonds (though that part was also annoying because how could you heat a diamond hot enough to melt it without it burning up and how could you drink such a thing and live?). I never learned that this was one book in a series until my husband was talking about how upset he was that they’d reordered the Narnia books. He listed off the order they were supposed to be in.
⋅     “Hmm,” I said. “Is the ‘Silver Chair’ the one where the underground is collapsing and the people say you should stay here and drink diamonds with us?”
⋅     He thought that was probably part of it.
⋅     “I think I’ve read that one. You say it’s part of a series?”
⋅     I can’t seem to remember his exact response, but it sparked a debate that’s lasted 22 years, so far, about whether it’s okay to start a series in the middle. (Remind me to tell you what happened with the Terry Goodkind book sometime. Ha ha ha ha ha.)
⋅     But one year at BYU, they were hosting a science-fiction/fantasy conference. My husband (at that time, boyfriend) is a big Orson Scott Card fan, and Card was signing books at Barnes and Noble (more on that another time). While we were waiting in line, my husband chatted with the other two authors who were signing books. One of them was really kind, really insightful, and really humble to put up with someone like me who’d never heard of her and was trying to figure out who she was without admitting it. My husband bought her book, “The Deed of Paksennarion,” and I read it and loved it. (Yes, that was the moment I met Elizabeth Moon, and yes, I totally botched it.)
⋅     Well, that was when I started reading science fiction and fantasy, qua science fiction and fantasy. Though I spent too long only nibbling at the feast, it’s been delicious.

DNA is overrated/What’s your personal best?

I love DNA. It’s amazing. You should study it deeply, because it will convince you that you are amazing, just by being alive.

I’m also annoyed by how people think that if you have a certain gene, it means you are a certain way. Other than a very few diseases, I have yet to see a single study that accounts for depression, autism, height, stamina, muscle strength, intelligence, etc., by a single gene. Rather, studies find hundreds, even thousands, of genes all interacting based on choices we make, feedback we give our bodies. Also, certain genes show up in studies for myriad conditions. They overlap. You can’t change everyone’s thousand or so “depressed” genes into “happy” genes because that will turn the person’s intestines to goo, cause their balance to fail, make them tone deaf, make them homicidal before 8 am, and turn them into a lousy kisser.

Okay, I’m making up the consequences. But, for most conditions we think of as negative, you can’t get rid of the “bad” genes without also screwing around with a bunch of other stuff that you might be sorry to lose.

Further, genes are turned on and off based on how they interact with the environment. If your grandpa ate a certain cookie and fell in love that day, his body may have attached a special little protein to a gene that senses the flavors in that cookie, and that protein attachment could be transcribed onto the DNA strands that he passes to his offspring, and his great-grandchild could feel a huge warm fuzzy anytime she smells that kind of cookie. As another example, your height is influenced by lots of genes, but by your environment much more– give a kid with short parents excellent nutrition, and a kid with tall parents poor nutrition, and it’s certainly possible that the kid with short parents will end up taller than the kid with tall parents.

There’s so much randomness in our daily lives, so many interactions with our environment, so many decisions we make, that the idea that your genes determine your life is absurd. It’s far more true to say your life influences your genes.

For example, I may have a set of genes that predisposes me to alcoholism. Because I’ve never touched the stuff, the genes that would give me a huge reaction to it probably haven’t been reinforced– I probably haven’t added any more “turn it on, baby” coding proteins to those genes. If I had some passed on to me, they may have deteriorated and not been replaced over time. If I were to take a drink, there might not be anything to signal my body to turn on those genes (at least, the first time). A gene that’s turned off might as well not exist. As a result, for all practical purposes, I don’t have that predisposition. As another example, my daughter with ASD was nonverbal for years. Through a huge amount of therapy over more than a decade, she’s almost reached the point where she won’t qualify for speech therapy services anymore. In some areas, her verbal abilities now are far above the norm. This aspect of her autism will not control her to the extent it might have without her hard work, even though her DNA code remains the same.

This brings me to intelligence. At some point, I was told I was smart. Schoolwork was always easy, when I stopped daydreaming long enough to do it. Then it got harder. I figured if it was hard, I must not be smart, after all. So I dropped down to classes where I would still do well without doing any work, because I thought that must be my true intellectual level. (That, and I just hated homework. School took an inappropriately huge portion of my time already; there was no way I was going to go home and use the few precious hours remaining to me on that.)

When I tried to drop a certain math class, the counselor took a look at something in my file, and said, “If anyone should be in this class, you should.” I assumed she had access to some random test I’d taken that had very little to do with the task at hand, and that she wouldn’t be convinced without further contradictory data. To prove to her I should be allowed to drop it, I got a “D” in it that quarter. Eventually, she let me switch down a level. Simple enough.

But the good thing was that I felt that I should be able to do well in this lower-level class, and if I didn’t, it was on me. I decided I would do all the work assigned, and see what happened. I did really, really well. When we got to trig, it wasn’t nearly as impossible as I’d thought– it was even kind of beautiful, in a way. (And, yes, my teacher was excellent.)

Then, when I was working at an accounting office that summer, I saw a quote on the wall that said something like, “There’s nothing more common than talent wasted due to lack of diligence.” I thought about that while I stood waiting for the copies to come out, day after day. I decided I would try my hardest to get straight A’s one quarter my senior year, just to see if it was possible. Turns out, it was. (My goal only lasted one quarter, however…)

Here’s the point: When Sal says he’ll never tell his kid he’s smart, I think what he’s saying is that kind of compliment is a detriment to a child’s world view. Telling me I was smart was really bad for my development. Telling me I should be diligent is what opened the world to me.

My invitation to you is, the next time you hear yourself saying, “My brain just doesn’t do that” or “I don’t have the right DNA for that” or “I’m too old” (it bothers me SO much when I hear people younger than me say stuff like they’re too old to go back to school or run a 5K– are you dead yet? No? Then you aren’t too old!!!) or whatever statement you’re mostly likely to use, change your mind. I suspect very few, if any, of us have ever yet found what our personal best really is, in any area. Your time on this earth is limited. Keep improving. Surprise yourself. As Sal says: You Can Learn Anything

Book release: “Entanglement” (Stasis series #3)

Dear Readers,

The third book in the Stasis series is now available! Amazon has the paperback at a discounted price for a short time.

Personal note: I feel like a real author, now. I had two readers who’d finished “Entropy” ask me when the third book would be out. I promised July, and didn’t get the last revision uploaded until September. Only a “real” author could promise readers the next installment and fail to meet the deadline, right?

–Alex Drevessa

Link to “Entanglement” on Amazon


Family Night (FHE) activity: D&D

Last night, after a lesson on honesty (Exodus 20:16), and some hymns and prayers, we adjourned to the kitchen table to have our Family Home Evening (FHE) activity. We quickly pulled down all the mini-figures and character sheets, got out our special sets of dice, and procured myriad snacks (the Shrewsbury cakes disappeared first).

At our last session, our adventuring party finished putting the town to rights (so we thought). But before going on our way, we decided to further investigate a rock formation and ravine outside of town, just to make sure there wasn’t something we missed when we’d looked it over the first time.

Turns out, we’d missed a lot.

I think our dungeon master was playing hard and fast with the rules, though. For example, we chased down a certain guy, and he hid in such a way that there was a 1 in 6 chance of finding him, but we didn’t find him until we’d gotten rid of all five other hiding places and the guy had severely damaged every one of us (me twice) with shocking grasp. There was another moment where our DM started to say something along the lines of “you see everything’s cleared out” when he stopped mid-sentence, and said these nasty spidery things were scuttling across the floor towards us, and one jumped right on my face (this in spite of my special outfit I paid a whole lot of gold pieces for in the last big town. When I argued the point about a disembodied hand being able to leap at all, or crawl up my awesome boots, well, let’s just say arguing with the DM can sometimes come back to haunt you.)

One of us got awarded points for inspiration– our wizard cleared out a room of skeletons with a fireball, and our warrior said “Mmmm. Now THAT’s barbequed ribs.” I used that line later that night as I was regaling the folks at the tavern with a rowdy (for us) song on my dulcimer.

As our evening came to a close, a well-dressed person from the Lord’s Alliance said he’d heard of our great deeds fighting evil, and asked us to find out what became of a lost delegation of ambassadors. *awed ooooooo sounds*

I don’t know what you do for your family night, but I hope it was as fun and exciting as ours was!

2017 Eclipse– Awestruck.

In the 90 minutes before totality, the eclipse was interesting and beautiful to watch through the viewers. We noticed the effects we’d been taught about: temperature dropping, not as bright, breezes, etc., but it was all within my expectations and common experience.

Then totality began.

Even with the year of preparation (printing out the NASA path of totality and putting it on the fridge, attending planetarium shows, attending demonstrations and asking detailed questions of the presenters, watching videos of other eclipses, having a list of things to watch for, testing our eclipse viewers, etc.) I was entirely unprepared for how stunning it was to experience it. I’m still trying to force myself to believe that my memory of the gorgeous pure white corona is real. I simply couldn’t have anticipated for how huge and pristine it was to actually see it glowing up there in the heavens. The atmosphere around us was eerie and exciting and magical all at once. The 360 degree glowing rainbow sunset, the strange hue imbuing everything with a richness it otherwise lacks, the cool breezes, the single bright star in the sky, night flowers opening, all of it all at once. Everyone making expressions of awe. The experience was sublime.

Then it was over.

The entire afternoon and evening I felt drained. It seemed strange that there should still be half the day left, and regular life to attend to.

Practical detail: I used three different cameras, with and without filters, and none caught a decent image of what we saw.

Miracle: They were predicting poor viewing conditions, lots of cloud cover. We’d been praying for good viewing conditions in our community, and some of us fasted. Viewing conditions yesterday were excellent. I know sometimes we make the mistake of praying for things that God isn’t willing to grant us, but in this case, I felt good about asking for this blessing, and I felt that He answered us.

Why I can’t win at Scrabble.

My husband has a crazy-huge vocabulary. Lately, he’s been making stuff up right and left, and seeing whether I believe it’s a word. For example, the other day we were at Chick-fil-A, working on our books, and I said I wanted to throw all my short stories into a little book and put it out for people, and he said no, those are incunabula. I said, “Gesundheit.” Then he showed me that’s really a word, and I used it in my post on the subject. A few days later, he said sheesh-meesh means “bat” (the flying animal) in Slovene. I said “no way am I believing that.” I looked it up on Google translate, and it came up as “netopir.” He said, “Oh, it must be Croatian I’m thinking of.” I said sure it was, and checked. But “šišmiš” popped up. He saw my face, started laughing, and laughed harder when I kept pressing the sound button to make the deep voice say, “SHEESHMEESH” a dozen times. Then tonight, he was talking about “Loop-garoos.” The kids didn’t believe that was really the French for “werewolf,” but I held back judgment based on the “lup” root (lupine, you know). Finally, he said he was going out to buy some “Eclairpses.” I was scared to ask, but did anyway. He said, “Oh, you know what those are.” I shook my head. He looked surprised. “Of course, they’re the custard-filled, chocolate topped pastry you buy on the weekend of the eclipse.” Oy!

Personal incunabula

So many snippets. So many little bits of story from the other characters’ perspectives. The text of Ben’s letter to Bob, of Marie’s note to Ben, the conversation Ben and Thomas had while she was trying to figure out the outfit, the entire argument from the moment they put her in the room till just before their shouting woke her, etc., etc., etc. It’s at least an entire novel in length, and that doesn’t count all the time diagrams, bits of paper where I jotted down notes in the library as I researched the history of various places and people, backs of envelopes where I outlined the next few chapters (as I thought they might work out, but never did) and electronic notes I hastily “typed” onto my Nook at whatever bizarre hour of the night I woke up with an idea (most of which were altered beyond recognition during the writing process).

I started making a book of short stories, revising these early things to be consistent with what my characters had later revealed about their histories. However, there’s an entire story behind each of the little statements. Bob’s history alone could be at least three books. I wanted to hurry and finish the short stories anyway, and write the other books later, but I’ve gotten sidetracked on Marcel’s short story. It’s already a novella.

My husband assures me every writer has a personal incunabulum like mine. To me, it’s something like a fecund compost pile, with strange new things growing out of the rich soil created by words tossed out on the garbage heap.

“Entropy” is now available

“Entropy” is the second book in the Stasis series. (If you’re wondering how I got this book out so quickly, the short answer is that I didn’t release “Stasis” until I’d revised the third book several times. That is, the first three books are, essentially, one book in three sections.)